Tag Archive: Bonhoeffer


As the world continues to muse on the death of Osama bin Laden many questions, concerns, and curiosities remain…

Yesterday I received this e-mail from a fellow pastor and friend:

I stayed up late last night watching the news coverage of the President’s address and the reporting of the “killing” (and that is the way the media reported) of bin Laden. And I am struggling with images of Americans in the street outside the White House dancing joyfully at this man’s death.  I know he needed to be brought to justice.  But as a Christian my heart is breaking at the display of glee and joy among our citizens, so many shown in the news coverage to be of such a young age. You and I serve the church and the Christ.  We preach about justice and forgiveness and reconciliation.  And I, as well as you, know that many of our parishioners may be jubilant at the news of bin Laden’s death.  In this season of Easter, having just celebrated God’s forgiveness and reconciliation in the Resurrection of the Christ, it seems the perfect time to speak to the Christian understanding of justice and forgiveness and the difficulty, at times like these, to be Christian…to live into our baptism … to be Christian first, American second.  Where to begin? And do you think it wise to deal with this from the pulpit?

I wonder along with my friend: “Where do we begin?  What is the proper Christian response?  Is it wise to deal with the situation from the pulpit (or wherever you find your job or ministry)?”

Or do we say nothing?

I find these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics to be helpful:

“Some who seek to escape from taking a stand publicly find a place of refuge in a private virtuousness.  Such a man [sic] does not steal.  He does not commit murder.  He does not commit adultery.  But in his voluntary renunciation of publicity he knows how to remain punctiliously within the permitted bounds which preserve him from involvement in conflict.  It is only at the price of an act of self-deception that he can safeguard his private blamelessness against contamination through responsible action in the world.  Whatever he may do, that which he omits to do will give him no peace.  Either this disquiet will destroy him or he will become the most hypocritical of Pharisees.”

We must speak.

We must speak to, into, and through the situations of the world.  To not speak is to say that it does not matter to us, our faith, or to God.  We commit not a sin of activity (theft, murder, adultery, gossip, etc.) but a sin of inactivity, of saying nothing.  Complacency in the face of injustice is as fraught with sin as the unjust actions that are committed.  We cannot withdraw into a refuge of private virtuousness.  We cannot retreat into our own hearts and minds, proclaiming to ourselves what the world needs to hear.

However, when we speak we must do so compassionately and modestly.  Not with chants of victory and triumph, but with pacifying tones of humility and peace.  We speak from a position of faith and peace seeking understanding, not from a place of celebration through killing.

When we speak, our words must be wedded to our deeds.  Our words of humility must be matched by time spent on our knees in prayers.  Our call for understanding and mercy must be paired with hugs and embraces of those who are different.  We cannot sing songs lamenting the loss of any life, and at the same time find a dancing partner in pride and jubilation.  We must not do as Jesus accused the religious leaders of his day, of neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  It is these, Jesus says, that they (and us) ought to do, practice, live, enact, and embody (Matthew 23:23).

Is it wise to deal with the situation?

Perhaps the death of bin Laden comes then as an opportunity for Christians…an opportunity to speak and embody the words of Christ…an opportunity to say true and compelling things about life and hope here and now through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection years ago.  We, as Christians, enter this moment with a unique platform to shout and gloat less, but pray and reflect more.  Perhaps we seize the opportunity to show the world that we, as Christians, act differently when we hear the news of death and uncertainty.

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The kingdom as challenge

The final chapter of Arias’s work concludes with a straightforward claim: The announcement of the kingdom is an invitation to radical discipleship. As he points out, “disciple” is the oldest name for Christians, and radical discipleship is life in the kingdom. The earliest followers of Jesus (and believers today) are called to be signs and anticipations of the coming kingdom. Arias also notes that we are called to be disciples for the kingdom. Just as the kingdom “bids for people’s” hearts souls, minds, and bodies, we participate in the blessings of the kingdom by celebrating the hopes of the kingdom and engaging in tasks of the kingdom (105).

In our lives and proclamations as disciples in and for the kingdom we must present a full picture of kingdom. We must proclaim the hopes and joys of the kingdom, but also the challenges and demands. Radical discipleship is just that, radical, revolutionary, world-shattering. Our presentation must be incarnational. The kingdom may fully be known and proclaimed when we make the gospel incarnate in our own lives and in the life of our community.

Citing Bonhoeffer, Arias defines costly, or radical, discipleship as one in which a strong choice must be made. We are either for or against Christ, the kingdom, and God (109). The challenge then for radical disciples is to test the spirits, read the signs of the times, to see clearly where the line between the kingdom and the antikingdom is today (109). And after we see it, to locate ourselves on God’s side. (See my comment in the last paragraph of the Chapter 4 review.)

While Arias builds a case for radical discipleship in and for the kingdom, I would have liked him to share more examples of “costly, radical discipleship.” Understandably, discipleship takes different forms in different parts of the world, but I would have appreciated a glimpse into the life of a disciple living in the kingdom. Or maybe a snapshot of someone radically living as a disciple for the kingdom. For all of Arias’s talk about the “concreteness” of the kingdom and kingdom–building work he fails to incorporate such issues in this final chapter.

This is the eighth review in a nine-part series looking at Mortimer Arias’s Announcing the Reign of God.

“Choose this day whom you will serve…”

After outlining the three-scene drama of evangelism in chapter 1, Brueggemann bridges the drama from scripture to contemporary times. He asks the question: Who is the constituency for evangelism? The most obvious answer: the outsider who stands apart from the community of “news,” or those who live by other (non-Israel, Christian) narrative identities. The great meeting at Shechem (Joshua 24) depicts Brueggemann’s tale of outsiders and insiders.

In Joshua 24 the “insiders” are Israel while the “outsiders” are represented by the “Canaanites.” Appreciatively, Brueggemann owns the fact that some interpretive readings of the conquest (“destroy the Canaanites”) may be problematic for any discussion of evangelism! However, Brueggemann holds to the view that the “conquest” of the Promised Land was likely a peaceful movement of coexistent communities. Thus, “Canaanites” represents a polemical, ideological term. Canaanites are those who are committed to social practices that are viewed as hostile to the covenantal vision of Israel (49). Canaanites, or outsiders, are those committed to practices (or theology) that are greedy, self-serving, arrogant, or wasteful.

So, the evangelistic question remains: How can such a person who lives in a different way legitimated by a different ideology be made a full participant in the story and the life of Israel? For an answer we look at Joshua’s speech in Joshua 24.

Anachronistically, Brueggemann imagines three yearning characters gathered around to hear Joshua’s words. First, he envisions a young girl from a troubled and dysfunctional family. The girl lives in the midst of familial wars and disputes. Her situation seems hopeless and impossible. Yet, she hears of God “giving” [to ancestors] Isaac…Jacob and Esau…the hill country” (Josh. 24.2b-4). She learns of a gracious God, one who gives gifts and hope. She hears the tale of God breaking the hopelessness, reconciling siblings, and guaranteeing futures (54).

Another listener is a tired business executive. He is worn-down by his heavy workload, but cannot escape it because he is fully dependant on it for his livelihood. The more he works the more he earns; and the more he earns the more he “lives.” Until…he hears Joshua relay the message of God in the Exodus, ““I brought you out” (Josh. 24.5-7). The executive realizes that life is about more than the docility of work and pleasing the boss. The Empire is not great provider (56). Rather, God offers a role in an alternative story of life. Like during the Exodus, God brings a departure for those trapped in despairing cycles.

Thirdly, Brueggemann tells of the hearer who is a member of the permanent underclass of society. The listener does not know how she fell into the lower socio-economic levels, but she knows it was her fault. But then Joshua tells of a great promise: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant” (Josh. 24.13). The lower class person’s spirits rise at the thought of a gift, of a promise, of an uninherited offer. In each situation, Joshua offers the hearers a reconstructed view of life. They are invited to imagine themselves differently. Through the retelling of God’s mighty acts they are invited to begin life anew (66). They are invited to move from despair to hope. They are allowed to depart from docility. They are offered a gift for the disadvantaged.

In this chapter Brueggemann offers a compelling picture of what evangelism might look like in today’s world. He beautifully translates Shechem for today. We can safely assume the hearers he paints into Joshua 24 are present in our pews in 2010. How will we tell them the story? How will we invite them to find themselves in the whole of God’s redemptive story?

Also, I love how Brueggemann does not spare the difficult side of the story. For as Joshua puts it, “Choose this day whom you will serve?” We are reminded that the story into which we are invited demands a response from us. Even more, the demands are tough. We must choose to leave behind the gods of Egypt, abandoning other loyalties, fear, and hopes in an effort to serve Yahweh only. There is, as Bonhoeffer put it, no cheap grace.

This is the second review in a five-part series looking at Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism.

United Methodist Lectionary Scripture for Sunday, April 19, 2009

Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

Prayer Focuses
1. Those who have suffered tragic loses
2. Those facing difficult decisions
3. Church food ministries around the world

Thought to ponder
“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”  — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in Germany from 1906-1945. He was a theologian, spiritual writer, a Lutheran Pastor who played a central role in the struggle against Nazism.

Links of Interest
Hoops turn fears into friendship
Youth fast today to change tomorrow

As Inauguration Day approaches,  conservative and evangelical Christians continue to fume over Pastor Rick Warren’s decision to participate in Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

But what are they so mad about?  Why are they so angry and put-off by Warren’s role in the historic day?  I thought prayer…the power of prayer….were central to evangelical belief?  Why then, are they less than enthused to offer prayer for the person who job certainly requires it?

Pastor Warren is doing the only thing he can do: pray for the President of the United States.  As Warren wrote, “Prayers are not to be sermons, speeches, position statements nor political posturing. They are humble, personal appeals to God.”

Christ calls all Christians to pray without ceasing….to pray for all….to pray for our friends and family…to pray for our enemies and those with whom we disagree with.

Perhaps we should heed these words Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, Life Together:

I can no longer condemn or hate a brother [or sister] for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed through intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died.

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